The match that ended the Montreal Impact’s 2013 season was the one that made it feel like Houston’s had truly begun.
Neither side had looked fully convincing at the climax of the regular season but the Dynamo dazzled when they hosted the Impact in the first round of the playoffs, winning 3-0 with one of their best performances of the year. The victory set up a two-legged Eastern Conference Semifinal clash with the New York Red Bulls and was an example of Houston’s famous habit of delivering their best soccer when it matters most.
Last October 31, just as in last Saturday’s 4-0 win over the New England Revolution in the MLS 2014 curtain-raiser, Will Bruin scored twice and Boniek García also found the net.
But the match was notable for three departures as well as three goals. Montreal finished with eight men: Nelson Rivas was sent off for collecting two yellow cards and Andres Romero and Marco Di Vaio followed for their roles in a late fracas. None of the three will feature at BBVA Compass Stadium this Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS): Rivas is injured and the others are suspended.
Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall thinks that Montreal’s lingering memories of that night could make them eager for revenge this weekend—not because it was such a heated contest, but purely due to frustration that the Quebec club stumbled at the first hurdle in their debut MLS playoffs appearance.
“I don't really think the way the game finished, the scuffle or whatever in the corner, I don't think that has anything to do with Saturday's game. It was for them the end of their season on a fairly bad night for them and emotions got the better of them so that happens in games, especially in playoff games,” said Hall.
“I think the fact that we knocked them out, not so much the fight in the corner, will be probably extra motivation for them. It would be for us.”
As for Houston: the aim is two wins out of two and a perfect start ahead of March 22-23—a bye weekend when the Dynamo will be the only MLS team to sit. “We've got a job to do and last year doesn't really matter at this point, we've got to get three points at home,” said Hall.
The Impact have a new man in charge—former Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas has replaced Marco Schallibaum. Klopas is seeking his first points with the club following last weekend’s 3-2 defeat to FC Dallas. Despite the change at the top, the roster has not radically altered.
Home advantage prevailed in last year’s regular season, with Montreal winning comfortably twice at Stade Saputo but Houston claiming a narrow victory in early October.
Di Vaio finished third in the league’s Golden Boot race last year with 20 goals, so Hall is grateful for his absence but still cautious about a lineup with dangerous attackers such as Justin Mapp and Andrew Wenger.
“Even though they're without Di Vaio they're still a very smart, soccer-savvy team, you have to pay attention. If you're not paying attention you can get punished and we've gotten punished by them before,” said Hall.
With St Patrick’s Day on Monday, the post-game entertainment will have an Irish flavor. The Houston Gaels Gaelic football team will take on a side from San Antonio in a 30-minute demonstration match of a sport that resembles a cross between soccer and rugby.
By the time that gets underway, Hall hopes to be reflecting in the locker room on another satisfying Saturday. “It's in our home, we're feeling good, we should be playing very good soccer on the weekend,” he said.
“Any team that comes to Houston, I'm going to be thinking that we should beat them. I think we're that good of a team that if someone comes here we should be getting three points, I'll never expect anything less than that at home especially with the group that we have, the way we're playing together and the way we understand each other, we're a good enough team to beat anybody.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.